As Better Place Tests Battery Replacement Technology in Japan, Is Better Place the Best Electric Car Company?


Shai Agassi’s Better Place electric car company seemed to be on the right track with their conception of a totally electric family sized car.

The Israeli company, with offices located in the Kiryat Atidim high tech park, outside of Tel Aviv, developed a prototype for an electric car, using a Renault Megane with an electric motor and a special battery that can be removed when “empty” and replaced with a fully charged one in a matter of minutes.

Users would batter for battery time, much like we pay for the use of cell phones today. And the company recently demonstrated how it makes a quick switch of batteries, in Japan.

Better Place has received so much hype and publicity that even US President Barack Obama said he was interested (along with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the State of Hawaii, Canada etc.)

Moshe Kaplansky and his associate Agassi (formerly of the German SAP software company), had been negotiating with the French auto company Renault to build a vehicle assembly factory in Israel’s economically depressed Beit Shean Valley, with the idea of not only building thousands of these environmentally friendly cars, but creating new jobs as well.

The latest is — instead of the plant going up in Israel a smaller version will be built in Turkey, where labor is much cheaper.

Better Place was also supposed to have entered into an agreement with the Israel Electric Company to build a number of recharging stations, where electric car owners could go to exchange their spent battery for a fresh one.

The battery, alleged to be able to provide the power to propel the car for up to 160 km, depending on road conditions is said to be worth around $12,000 US and won’t be owned by car’s owner, but will be leased, and exchanged for a fresh one as needed.

While all this seems to be a bit beyond what most car owners might want to do if they decide to purchase one of these cars, the idea seems better than General Motor’s Chevrolet Volt model which would require hours between charges and only have a battery life of some 60 km. Both cars distance capabilities will be greatly affected if auto accessories like air conditioners, CD units and other items requiring electricity are used, including lights and windshield wipers.

The future may be brighter for the company however, as Better Place recently demonstrated it’s special battery charger and replacing system in Japan. The system uses two conveyor belts, one which holds the charged battery that is to be put into the car and other which removes the empty battery, which will be recharged for use in another car.

Better Place had been invited to Japan by that country’s Ministry on Environment, and the Japanese government seems interested in the system which was demonstrated on a prototype model from Nissan, which had been assembled in the US, prior to being taken to Japan.

The test in Japan may help progress the idea where Israeli technology was tested in the very heart of the Japanese auto industry. Should a Japanese car manufacturing company become interested in this idea, the future will be very bright for Better Place.

Cost and logistical considerations may still keep the car from being mass produced, however. And 2010 or even 2011 production deadlines may not be realistic enough.


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